BURNING QUESTIONS FOR 2021 NRL SEASON
*Can Kevin Walters succeed in an NRL head coaching gig?
The Queensland legend has been passed over for NRL gigs in the past. This is his chance to prove his doubters wrong. How will his experience as a winning Origin coach and NRL assistant translate at the helm of 2020 wooden spooners Brisbane.
*Can the Wests Tigers break their finals drought?
Every year since 2011 the Tigers have assured the upcoming season will be better, but they are yet to fulfil their promise by making the finals in that time. Heading in 2021, Michael Maguire is the first coach since then to be re-signed, so can he deliver?
*Can Harry Grant be the only man to successfully replace Cameron Smith?
Replacing the most-capped player in NRL history is the toughest job in the game. Since Smith's retirement from the representative scene his successor Damien Cook has won two of four matches for the Kangaroos while Queensland's only series win has come with Grant in the side. Can the 2020 rookie of the year do the same for Melbourne?
*Will the game become too quick?
The introduction of the 'six again' rule completely changed the game in 2020 but this season it will also be used for 10m infringements instead of a penalty. While a small change, the added speed can have big impacts on player workloads, momentum and fatigue. Injuries were a big issue in 2020, but will 2021 take an even bigger toll?
*Can the Warriors handle another year on the road?
Last year the NZ-based based outfit played the entire season out of Central Coast and stuck to the task even after their coach was suddenly sacked. Ahead of the 2021 season they're already in Australia with no guarantee they won't have to stay another full season. New coach Nathan Brown has his work cut out keeping their mind on the job amid so much uncertainty.
*Can the Panthers go one better?
Penrith lost just two games all year in 2020, but one of them was the biggest of all. After making history with 17-straight wins before losing the grand final, can Ivan Cleary's men go one better without James Tamou, Zane Tetevano and Josh Mansour?
*Will Boyd Cordner play again?
Troubling concussions plagued Cordner's season with the Sydney Roosters before he called a halt following the State of Origin opener in Adelaide. Watching the NSW captain being helped from the field was terribly worrying and raised concerns about whether continuing to play would be detrimental to his long-term health.
*Are the Gold Coast all they're cracked up to be?
No team from outside last year's top-eight will enter the season with as much hype as the Titans.They won their last five games in 2020, and have recruited better than any other team. But while David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui offer plenty of power and ability up front, they'll still need Ash Taylor and and Jamal Fogarty to deliver in the halves. AJ Brimson's fitness at the back is also crucial.
*Which of the new coaches will have the biggest impact?
Five coaches begin their first season at their clubs this year, all with an enormous task on their hands. The Warriors (Nathan Brown) have their obvious challenges, while Walters at the Broncos and Todd Payten at North Queensland will need quick results. In NSW, Anthony Griffin will be expected to wrangle St George Illawarra's talented squad into a consistent one and Trent Barrett could revive The Entertainers at Belmore.
*Will the World Cup go ahead?
It will be some sort of logistical miracle if the event is staged as planned in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments all to run concurrently. Organisers says they are confident it will be held, but a call will be made in May.
Australian Associated Press